This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Equiano's Interesting Appeal

After reading and further reviewing Equiano’s narrative, I am impressed with the strategical manner in which he critiques the morality, practices and characteristics of European “civilized” society without alienating or even really offending his target audience during that period. Equiano has the ability to express his opinion and opposition to certain European practices while at the same time, and in the same breathe at times, praising their resourcefulness and intelligence. He achieves a balance that remains consistent throughout the narrative.
Equiano’s first stab at Europeans occurs in the first paragraph when he is referring to the events of his life, which were not uncommon during that period in time. He adds, however, “did I consider myself an European, I might say my sufferings were great.” With this comment, he is referring to the easy way of life Europeans enjoyed in comparison to slaves although they tended to take this for granted and dramatized their “hardships.”
As the narrative develops, Equiano sets them up then knocks them down while keeping the guise of a moderate. In the description of his homeland, he highlights the Ibo people’s simple way of life, their convenient rather than ornamental buildings, their obsession with cleanliness, their “cheerfulness and affability,” their aversion for idleness and their kind treatment of their prisoners turned slaves. Equiano says, “and we were totally unacquainted with swearing, and all those terms of abuse and reproach which find their way so readily and copiously into the language of more civilized people.”
Further into the story, when describing his time aboard the Industrious Bee, he uses this balance of praise and critique when he muses, “I was astonished at the wisdom of the white people in all things I saw; but was amazed at their not sacrificing, or making any offering, and eating with unwashed hands and touching the dead.”
Throughout the story, Equiano acknowledges the unusually kind treatment he received from some of his masters and various other people he encounters along the way. The “polished and haughty European” people teach him to read and write, do arithmetic, shave and dress hair. Equiano “relished their society and manners” while they taught him of the Bible and Christianity. For this, he expresses his appreciation for the opportunity to learn such things.
Equiano then uses these teachings to attack European’s hypocrisy in which they have Christian beliefs and exalt Christian tendencies while practicing inhuman, immoral practices, such as slavery. He cannot see the rationality in what he sees as blatant sin. He pleads with the reader asking the rhetorical question, “And do not the assembly which enacted it deserve the appellation of savages and brutes rather than of Christians and men?”
Equiano cleverly reverses the labels and descriptions Europeans give him and other Africans making the Europeans look like the savage brutes by expressing his fears regarding their strange appearance, possible cannibalistic nature and dark magic. He makes these instances come off as a bit humorous in order to avoid making the average European reader uncomfortable with his thoughts. In reality, Equiano is quite serious in his descriptions of his encounters with these people.
I think Equiano’s narrative succeeds in appeasing his anticipated readership while still subtly, and sometimes blatantly but with polish, expressing his real thoughts towards the practice of slavery and European society. I also believe that if free from fear of censorship or worse, Equiano’s position would have definitely been more radical alluding to “the law of retaliation.” However, this argument is a blog for another day.


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